And then the Chinese is a good man to manage in trade, and in business dealings his word is his bond, generally speaking, although we do not forget that not long ago a branch in North China of the Hong-kong and Shanghai Bank was swindled seriously by a shroff who had done honest duty for a great number of years. It cannot, however, be said that such behavior is a common thing among the commercial class. My personal experience has been that John does what he says he will do, and for years he will go on doing that one thing; but it should not surprise you if one fine morning, with the infinite sagacity of his race, he ceases to do this when you are least expecting it—and he “does” you. Keep an eye on him, and the Chinese to be found in Hankow having dealings with Europeans in business is as good as the best of men.
We wended our way one morning into the native city, and agreed that few inconveniences of the Celestial Empire make upon the western mind a more speedy impression than the entire absence of sanitation. In Hankow we were in mental suspense as to which was the filthier native city—Hankow or Shanghai. But we are probably like other travelers, who find each city visited worse than the last. Should there arise in their midst a man anxious to confer an everlasting blessing upon his fellow Chinese, no better work could he do than to institute a system approaching what to our Western mind is sanitation. We arrived, of course, in the winter, and, having seen it at a time when the sun could do but little in increasing the stenches, we leave to the imagination what it would be in the summer, in a city which for heat is not excelled by Aden.[A] During the summer of 1908 no less than twenty-eight foreigners succumbed to cholera, and the native deaths were numberless.
The people were suffering very much from the cold, and it struck me as one of the unaccountable phenomena of their civilization that in their ingenuity in using the gifts of Nature they have never learned to weave wool, and to employ it in clothing—that is, in a general sense. There are a few exceptions in the empire. The nation is almost entirely dependent upon cotton for clothing, which in winter is padded with a cheap wadding to an abnormal thickness. The common people wear no underclothing whatever. When they sleep they strip to the skin, and wrap themselves in a single wadded blanket, sleeping the sleep of the tired people their excessive labor makes them. And, although their clothes might be the height of discomfort, they show their famous indifference to comfort by never complaining. These burdensome clothes hang around them like so many bags, with the wide gaps here and there where the wind whistles to the flesh. It is a national characteristic that they are immune to personal inconveniences, a philosophy which I found to be universal, from the highest to the lowest.
Everybody we met, from the British Consul-General downward, was surprised to know that my companion and I had no knowledge of the Chinese language, and seemed to look lightly upon our chances of ever getting through.